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A sporting declaration turned sour - The only time a team declared at 0/0

A match that had seemed the epitome of sporting behaviour between two teams, only to later turn out to be the result of a match-fixing

Hansie Cronje and Nasser Hussain, the two captains involved in this infamous match

England tour of South Africa, 5th (Final) Test: South Africa v England at Centurion, Jan 14-18, 2000 – a match that had once seemed as the epitome of sporting behaviour between two teams, only to later turn out to be the result of a match-fixing deal.

In the recently-concluded rain-affected test match between West Indies and Australia at Sydney, Steven Smith made an offer of chasing down 370 in 70 overs - an offer to enliven what had become a dull Test match - which was turned down by West Indian skipper, Jason Holder. 

West Indies won the toss and elected to bat first at Sydney. West Indies could score 248/7 in their first innings with only one day to go. The first two days had limited play due to rain while the 3rd and 4th days were completely washed out. The match was certainly heading towards a draw. The crowd had lost interest in the match so much so that the administration announced free entry for the 5th and final day to bring in some spectators. 

Steven Smith came up with even a better strategy. He approached his counterpart, Jason Holder and made him what he called a ‘generous offer’. West Indies, under the terms of the offer, were to declare their first innings following which Australia would declare their first on 0/0. West Indies would score around 121 runs in their second innings leaving around 370 for Australia to chase in 70 overs in the last innings of the match. However, Holder talked to his team and finally declined the offer. The match ultimately ended in an inevitable draw.

Had Holder accepted Smith’s offer, it would have become only the second instance in test history when such a deal would have struck between two captains. It would also have been only the second instance in test history when a team declared their innings at 0/0. But it did not happen and we are here to take a look at the only instance when this did happen.

Striking similarities between two incidents

It was England’s tour of South Africa and the hosts were 2-0 up in the series with the last match to be played at Centurion, much like the 2015/16 Aus-WI series where Australia were 2-0 up with the last match seeing such an offer. The visitors, just like West Indies, won the toss but elected to field. South Africa made 155/6 on the first day before rain stopped play. In that match also, the 3rd and 4th days were completely washed with the only difference being that the 2nd day was also rendered delivery-less. 

With the last day left for play, the match was on its way to an imminent draw. Much like Steven Smith, the home captain Hansie Cronje made an offer to the visiting captain Nasser Hussain. However unlike Jason Holder, Nasser Hussain accepted the offer. 

Hansie Cronje talked to Alec Stewart before the start of 5th day’s play and placed an offer for England to chase down 270 in 73 overs (a much more achievable target than the 370 of this match). England were not ready to accept the deal, since they were not sure how the pitch would behave after four days of rain. However the ease with which Klusener and Pollock played in the early overs of the first session on 5th day convinced the English skipper, Nasser Hussain, to take up the challenge. 

Around 40 minutes into play, Nasser Hussain sent a message to Hansie Cronje to check whether the deal was still on. He asked, “how about us chasing 250”? The target was intentionally kept low so that bargaining would make it around 260. However, Nasser Hussain was surprised by the ready acceptance of the deal by Hansie Cronje. 

The deal was finalized as 245 in 76 overs rather than the original 270 in 73 overs. A four of the last ball of the 72nd over of the African Innings made the target jump to 249 instead of the agreed 245. South Africa declared their first innings on 248-8, followed by England’s declaration on 0/0. South Africa forfeited their second innings and thus England were to chase 249.

England, in chasing, were 102-4 when Michael Vaughan joined Alec Stewart on the crease. A partnership of 126 between the two brought life to England’s chase. However, when Alec Stewart fell on the total of 228, England still had to make 21 with 5 wickets in hand. England lost three more wickets when they reached 240. The finale had become a real thrilling one with 9 required with 2 wickets left. 

Darren Gough and Silwerwood’s 11 run partnership saw England home with only 5 balls to go in the day. Michael Vaughan was adjudged man of the match for his match winning knock of 69 runs off 108 balls. 

The match was however later on tainted when five months after the conclusion of match, Hansie Cronje confessed that he made the deal when some bookmaker had asked him to bring about a result out of this match. This was the first instance when match-fixing was proven in cricket. 

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